Legacy Fund: school districts say invest in the west

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 5:56 PM CST
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People of Western North Dakota voiced their opinions Thursday on how the state should spend more than $6 billion that originated from oil and gas gross-production and taxes. Discussion revolved around how school building needs and quality of life in the Bakken are directly affected by the oil industry, therefore impacting all of North Dakota.

The State Legacy Fund Earnings Committee heard that school infrastructure is expensive and bond votes aren’t passing, but growth is still happening.

Beth Zietz, Williams County School District #8 superintendent, said, “Our district in 2010 had 181 students. This coming fall, we will have 1,000.”

The educational needs are becoming higher than what tax payers say they can handle and what bond money can build.

Steven Holen, McKenzie County School District superintendent, said, “We’re there, and it’s come full-circle to now, We are a major component to maintaining a workforce and industry, that is why the Legacy Fund exists.”

Schools want state legislators to invest in the west.

Joanna Baltes, Williston Public School District #1 president, said, “It would be tremendous for our community, which would in turn, be tremendous for the state of North Dakota.”

Another high-priority topic was funding the four-lane Highway 85 project, as well as water and sewer needs.

Philip Riely, Watford City mayor, stated, “If we don’t keep our infrastructure up to date and in good shape here, that will drive our industry to other options. We know we are not the only game in the industry anymore.”

The committee will use the public comments to either create bills during the next legislative session or make suggestions.

Chet Pollert, Legacy Fund Earnings Committee chairman, said, “We’ve got to balance them with the needs in Eastern North Dakota. Western North Dakota’s focus has been a lot more on education and school-building construction. Out east, they talked about economic development, tax incentives, career, technical education for students; mainly the workforce.”

Pollert said they want to save a good percentage of the funds for when the oil industry slows down in the future. He added, we’ll likely hear spending suggestions at or before their next meeting this June in Bismarck.